THAT WHICH GODS DESTROY - Act III - Erich von Shrakenberg
On the bridge of the Stornoway, all eyes turned toward Von Shrakenburg. His crew was ready, their weapons primed, and an antique ship twice their size was hailing them. Maybe they could leave before the cruiser got aggressive, but Eric was sure it wouldn't take no for an answer.
"If they know we're here, SOMETHING is compromised," muttered the captain. Out loud, he said, "Maintain Emcon! Gergenstein, you still have a lock?"
"Solid, captain. They ain't hiding."
"Dammit, either they got a spy at HQ, or they tapped that last netcom. Either way, it's not good news. Helm, how far to the nearest sensor platform, and on what bearing?"
"Not far, Captain," answered Lefarge. "300 K-klicks at 273 mark 42."
"Perfect...a little longer than I'd like, bit it'll do..."
The face on the screen interrupted. "Federation Vessel! I insist that you reply at once, or we will be forced to assume you are hostile!"
"Get a comm maser on that sensor platfom on the double," Von Shrakenberg
barked. "Narrow band only, and not anywhere near that cruiser... let the sensor platform transmit for us. Understood?"
"Aye, aye, sir....connection established, opening a channel... now."
"Greetings, Enoch vessel. This is the EFS Stornoway. We are in-system on a routine patrol. Please state your intentions."
"We need to speak to your commanding officer, it is a matter of vital importance," replied the image on the screen.
"My name is Commander Von Shrakenberg, captain of this vessel. If my
government won't talk to you, what do you want from me?"
"We desire a face-to face meeting, commander. Will you shuttle over to our vessel?"
Below the angle of viewer pickup, Eric signalled the com officer to cut the transmission. "Not likely, unless I am terminally stupid and forgot the fact that they can dominate ANYONE. Options, people?"
Johanna spoke up at once. "Something is obviously up, and I would lay long odds it involves that asteroid. I don't like it."
"Me either," answered the commander. "But if we want an answer we have to talk. Gergenstein, any change in the other ship's emissions?"
"They've begun active radar, sir, it's pinging all over the place. They're trying to find us, but I don't think they have us yet," answered the weapons officer.
"Cut the signal and notify me of any changes. Resume transmission."
As the viewer snapped on again, Eric spoke up. "My officers and I do not think that will be possible. Anything you want to say, say over the comlink."
The red-suited captain cleared his throat, as if not sure to speak or not, however he finally brought the words to his voice. "Commander, in the past, prisoner exchanges have been made to get back our captured comrades. However, the last few years, those exchanges have stopped. Now we would like to arrange..."
Before the Lillith's captain could continue, Gergenstein suddenly cut the comlink. "Enoch radar going into targeting mode, they have a lock!"
"Evasive Action! Dive into the solar gravity well! Energize the graviton cannon!"
The Stornoway twisted in space, and fired it's main drive. The destroyer dove towards the system's primary star, jinking around like a beached salmon. The Enoch vessel blasted to follow them, spearing a powerful laser through the vacuum, missing the Earth Fleet destroyer by less than a kilometer.
Graviton Cannon charged, sir, do I have permission to return fire," pleaded the weapons officer.
Kick 'em in the teeth, Lieutennant! Helm, bring us around!" The dstroyer spun around as the first Enoch missles streaked towards it. The point-defense lasers, under computer control, blasted the missiles apart well short of the ship. As soon as the bow of the Earth destroyer came within 60 degrees of the Enoch Cruiser, the Graviton Cannon fired. As the graviton pulse impacted the Enoch vessel, it literally flew apart into a million
pieces, vented atmosphere fueling a brief flare as the cruiser blew apart.
"Damage report," barked Eric.
"Minor damage to the pusher plate, it looks like a medium laser hit, but we should be able to move at just under peak accelleration, at least for now. Small hull breach on deck 12, probably a debris strike from the missiles, minor atmosphere loss only. No reported casualties so far.
"Correction, lieutenant. Just one casualty: peace. As of now, we will assume that a state of war exists between the Earth Federation and the Kingdom of Enoch."
The destroyer quickly took up station beside the Enoch jumpgate, destroying all of their listening devices along the way. In fact, the commander allowed the squadron of fighter jocks in his bay some target practice, going on longer patrols to hit the annoying probes. Funny that, Earth Fleet took away most of his weaponry for this God cannon, which had already proved its usefulness twice, but they left him enough room for a fighter squadron. No one had told Research & Testing Command that a S-23 Rapier medium combat shuttle (read "fighter") was about as useful in a ship-to-ship fight as pissing in a hurricane. However, since the Liberation's fleet had been so easily destroyed in the 2nd Civil War, only the fighters got to see much action, used as air support dirtside. Von Shrakenberg could only smile; every navy was prepared to fight the last war, not the next one.
Now they had another war. The captain sat on the bridge of a small starship, outside an enemy jumpgate, contesting a worthless star system. Eric could see the crew was nervous. No one on board had expected to be in combat two weeks after they launched! The Stornoway was the only ship around for light years. For all the captain knew, the entire Enoch fleet could be headed their way. Although he had the best position in the cosmos from which to fight that armada, even he doubted his ship's ability to take on so many.
Suddenly, a flashing beep kept flashing on Lieutenant Gergenstein's screen. "Sir, I read jumpgate activation."
Von Shrakenberg activated the view screen. The jumpgate was vacant. "On our side?"
"Confirmed. I read twelve... no twenty... sir, it's the Third Fleet!"
Eric's eyes lit up. "Open comm channels!"
The viewscreen changed and there was Uncle Karl, smiling like Kris Kringle, as his fleet came to relieve them. "Ah, kommander, I see we have come in plenty of time. Pity. I rather liked the image of the dragoons coming to the rescue."
"That's cavalry, sir, not dragoons."
"Those Americans always mess up a good one-liner, ya?"
Eric smiled. "Yes, sir."
"As of dis moment, the Stornoway is under my fleet command. Begin running your fighters through the gate for a quick scan of the hyperspace beacon. I want warning before Enoch tries anything again."
"Wunderbar. I will expect to see you on my flagship when I reach you in three hours. Von Shrakenberg out."
Once the shuttle docked with the EFS Mannheim, the old admiral was waiting there to greet his nephew. "Ah, strange things you'll do to get me to visit, ya?"
"You know me, uncle. Always the attention getter."
"Ya, sure. Come to my office. I have some brew from home that will put some hair on your chest."
"From the look of things, that's not where I need it."
"Ho, ho! Come. Good beer always heals a bad situation."
After taking the elevators up to the admiral's bridge, he passed some weird bottle to Eric and activated the system map. "You see, kommander, when we got your signal, we were on manuevers in Efrendi system here." Karl pointed at the dot and it glowed red.
"But sir, that signal was sent three days ago. Efrendi's at least two jumps away."
"The possibility of war changes everything. I threw away the regs and locked onto Hrothgar's beacon instead." He touched the Hrothgar dot and the red line extended to there. "Saved us a day's trip."
After taking a sip of the brew, Eric swallowed fiercely. "But you could have been caught up in one of the hyperspace eddies! Your entire fleet..."
"...was fine, kommander. Besides, those regs are for cry babies. With the sensors we have on these beautiful ships, we can plot a course to the end of the universe!"
"And you'll get there too, if you don't watch your beacons."
"Pity. You're still soaking up that damned academy rubbish. Once you realize how to seduce the space mistress, no feat is too big."
"Rubbish or not, we still have two hundred missing ships on the books, thanks to hyperspace."
"Ah, never mind. Perhaps you need some good food in your belly. You're so skinny! What are they feeding you on that dingy of yours?"
"Hey, I'm in good shape!"
"Ya, for a emasicated rodent. Come, my chef has excellent..." Suddenly, warning klaxons rang and red lights flashed everywhere. The admiral jumped into action. "Captain, report!"
The chief of staff rushed over to his CO. "Sir, we've got a black hole forming... wait, it's no longer there."
"Explain yourself, Fredricks!"
"Sir, I'm not... wait a minute, we have a ship bearing on an intercept course." the chief of staff looked over at another aide, "Daniels, do you have a FOF on it?"
"Yes, sir. It's a Fed ship, destroyer-sized... but not like any destroyer I've seen."
A lieutenant called out from the other side of the flag bridge. "Sir, the ship is trying to hail us."
"Put it through on the tank." Karl demanded then cleared the system map. The hologram of an oriental-looking man appeared. His long black hair seemed to move like a dragon's scales and the look on his face seem to blush with reptile blood. "This is Admiral Karl Von Shrakenberg, Commanding Officer, Third Fleet. Identify yourself."
"My name is Lt. Colonel In-Seok Pax, Internal Security. I must insist that you leave this system at once."
"_Lieutenant_ Colonel, I'm not about to leave anywhere. We've just had an attack by an Enoch vessel against one of our ships."
"In neutral territory, admiral." The InSec man was deliberatly insulting to the higher ranking officer. "Your unrequested help in this system is not required. You will return to Phoenix system at once."
"Under the Chairman's authority, Grand Council executive order 2242-12. The Hrothgar system is now under the direct control of Internal Security." There was a slight pause as the dragon slithered into a devious smile. "Is Commander Von Shrakenberg with you?"
Eric honed into view, although he wished he hadn't. "Yes, colonel?"
"Although Admiral Vorheis is most impressed with the effectiveness of your ship's weaponry against a larger sized cruiser, your recent actions make it impossible to continue on your patrol of the frontier near Enoch space. The Stornoway is to jump to St. Michael's Star and patrol for smugglers along the frontier between there and Deseret."
"What is it, colonel?"
"All your ships must depart within four hours. After that, I will not be responsible for the loss of your commission. Discom." Then the screen went black.
"Wat an ass-hole." Karl said under his breath.
Eric was still mystified by the entire situation. "There's something I don't understand."
"Yeah," Captain Fredricks walked over, "like how they managed to jump so close to us. Especially in-system!"
"No, that's not it, sir." Commander Von Shrakenberg replied. "I never mentioned what type of ship I destroyed in my emergency call. How did InSec _know_ it was a cruiser?"
"How does InSec know anything?" his uncle shrugged, "I'm afraid those damn brown shirts have cut our reunion short."
"Brown shirts?" Karl's nephew asked.
"Never mind. Get back to your ship, kommander. I'll give your mother my love when I reach port."
"Thank you, sir." Eric replied, leaving the admiral's bridge to head for the personnel shuttle. Twice now Internal Security had ruffled his feathers. Von Shrakenberg felt like a chess piece in a huge galactic game. The commander didn't like how he was being moved.
END OF ACT III
Text Copyright © 2000 by Marcus Johnston. All Rights Reserved.